Did Angels Save the British Army at Mons?
New Book Looks at Spiritualism, Superstition and the Supernatural During the First World War
The industrialised slaughter of the First World War brought a sudden and concentrated interest in life after death, in living in spite of death and trying to predict, or even influence, when the merciless killing would end. People asked, do the dead return? Are the angels on the side of the British? Can black cat amulets and lucky shillings stop bombs and bullets? Can the fate of nations be foretold in the stars?
Angels in the Trenches, a new book by Dr Leo Ruickbie, looks at the important roles played by spiritualism, superstition and the supernatural during the First World War. An elected member of the Royal Historical Society with a PhD from King’s College, London, Ruickbie is the author of six books covering controversial areas of human belief and experience.
The Angels of Mons Investigated
The paranormal was there from the beginning. After their miraculous escape from the German military juggernaut in the small Belgian town of Mons in 1914, many British soldiers really did believe that they had been saved by angels.
The Angels of Mons case grew out of a controversy involving the Welsh writer Arthur Machen, who claimed to have invented the incident for a story published in a London newspaper. Soon, however, reports began coming in from soldiers who claimed to have seen the angels themselves. Often told second or third hand, these stories nonetheless inspired the nation with the belief that God, through his ministering angels, had intervened in the war and, significantly, had shown His support for the British.
Spiritualism on the Homefront
On the homefront, the number of spiritualist meetings in the United Kingdom increased dramatically. While the Society for Psychical Research set out to discover the truth of such events, poet W.B. Yeats entertained his fellow members of the Ghost Club with stories of his own experiences. From apparitions on the battlefield to the popular boom in spiritualism as the horrors of modern warfare reaped their terrible harvest, the paranormal – and, significantly, its use in propaganda – was one of the key aspects of the First World War.
People at every level of society were struggling to come to terms with the ferocity and terror of the war, and their own losses: soldiers looking for miracles on the battlefield; parents searching for lost sons in the séance room.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Revelations
People not only asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” but they eagerly sought to know if communication was possible with the dear ones they had lost. – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Famous as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would also lose a son and many other close relatives during these terrible years. One of the foremost scientists of the day, Sir Oliver Lodge, would be similarly stricken by loss and like Doyle would also champion spiritualism, writing one of the most persuasive books on the existence of life after death.
Based on original sources and archival research, the story told here is the very human one of people forced to look beyond the apparent certainties of the everyday; it is a story that still challenges those certainties today. Angels in the Trenches is full of dramatic insight on the power of the invisible – the belief in the paranormal rather than the paranormal itself – to shape human events.
The book is dedicated to the author’s mother Bernice Ruickbie, who died in 2017, and to his great-grandfather Walter Ruickbie, who served in the Royal Scots during the Great War.
Angels in the Trenches is a unique approach to illuminating supernatural beliefs and experiences during the First World War that creates a gripping narrative, as well as an informative one. Leo Ruickbie’s grasp of the subject immerses the reader in the rich detail of the past, evoking the war years and the experiences of those who lived then with a novelist’s flair. The structure of the book – chronologically written in punchy sections – makes this an easy book to read and the reader is soon caught up in the dramatic storyline. Definitely recommended.
Angels in the Trenches
Spiritualism, Superstition and the Supernatural During the First World War
Publication date: 08 Nov 2018
Page count: 432
Imprint: Robinson (an imprint of Little, Brown)
Available now from Amazon.co.uk.